The title of today’s post pays a small bit of homage to “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron who in many minds was and IS the all-time homerun king of baseball. Hank Aaron passed away Friday at the age of 86 years old. Hank was one of my personal heroes growing up as an Atlanta Braves fan. The man could hit any pitch out of any ballpark, but if you hung a curveball anywhere near the plate, “Hammerin’ Hank” would destroy it.
As that relates to skiing…okay it was a thin analogy…but despite the curveball affect that the pandemic could have and should have had on our ski season, things have been a homerun for most ski resorts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic – at least through the halfway point in the season.
As if you can’t already tell, Sunday’s are my day to ramble via FirsTrax. If you’re not into my rambling and just want the SNOW REPORT, click here.
So here we go…
Record and Near-Record Crowds Continue At Some Southeastern Ski Areas
I’ve been reporting about how massive the crowds have been this season and I repeatedly get a bit of kickback from some readers, social media posts and others questioning my own eyes. I know we can read posts about how ski areas are “limiting capacities” but when you can’t find a parking spot at those same ski areas or when equipment rentals are sold out at those same ski resorts – I question just HOW limited the capacities are.
One, rather industrious reader recently emailed me:
I have visited six of the region’s ski slopes this season and all my visits have come on weekends. I have never seen the kind of crowds as I have witnessed this season. When you guys report that ski resorts are limiting the number of lift tickets sold to something less than usual, what does that even mean? I Googled for a few hours to see what a normal skier visit season was for each resort in the region and you cannot find that number anywhere. If it exists, it is probably a private number, known only to the resort owners. So when resorts say they are limiting capacity – limiting to WHAT? At four of the six places I have skied this winter, the limit had to have been to stop printing lift tickets when they ran out of paper! Can you share any answer to that? – Jerome Banacek (Avid reader)
I hear you Jerome and thanks for the email. To be honest, I don’t have an answer. What I can share as some sort of insight is that there are perhaps five or six ski resorts in the Southeast that are THE most visited resorts every season. Of THOSE, I only know of one that it even reporting that they are limiting lift ticket sales to some level below normal seasons. Whether that is a limit below LAST season (which was cut short) or their AVERAGE skier-visit season or their RECORD season, nobody knows and nobody is talking.
There are perhaps six or seven resorts in the region that I would classify (in my 26 years of reporting) as the “next level” attendance resorts and only a couple of those have shared that they ARE limiting lift ticket sales. However, even those who I spoke with don’t know what the limit is compared to what criteria.
There are three or four ski areas in the region who have struggled mightily in recent years to pull the kind of skier-visits that they want and need annually. Not ONE of those resorts have reported being SOLD OUT this season, but even THEY have seen MUCH higher-than-usual skier traffic this season.
I made a few calls recently and here are some observations shared:
Banner Elk Police Chief Kevin Hodges –
“We are getting a lot of calls about traffic being backed up and things. In my 15 or 16 years here in Banner Elk, I don’t ever recall seeing so many people. Usually the week between Christmas and New Year’s, it is a huge ski weekend for both Beech and Sugar, but I don’t recall it ever being quite this big every weekend and every day.”
Banner Elk Town Manager Rick Owen –
“This year has been a bit different, as the pandemic has shut down many amenities in larger cities, making the High Country’s vacation destinations increasingly attractive to those looking to get away for awhile during the holidays. The effect has been that Avery County in particular has seen an unprecedented amount of visitors flooding into its towns and local areas. The area has seen a record number of visitors over the past weeks, even surpassing the record set in July for the number of tourists visiting the county. Our county is PACKED.”
(Note the fact that he shared all-time records were set back in July 2020, and those are being surpassed NOW.)
Beech Mountain Tourism Development Authority Director Kate Gavenus –
“Occupancy rates in Beech Mountain have remained high as well throughout the winter tourism season.”
According to Beech Mountain Tourism Development Authority Director Kate Gavenus, the high demand for rentals and hotel rooms is not just present in Beech Mountain this year but across the whole area.
“We are always very, very busy over the holidays. It is a time of year that we are guaranteed to be 100-percent booked up, but this year the whole High Country is like that. There is not a place to stay anywhere in the High Country. That is unusual. Beech Mountain usually has a good surge this time of year because we’re a ski resort, of course, but now everybody is seeing the same thing,” Gavenus said.
We’re hearing the same things at many locations….
Despite “Limited Capacity” Lift Tickets, Ski Rental Equipment and Lodging are Scarce
All of this does feel a little like “fuzzy math” to me, but regardless this season has been a “Homerun” of sorts in that every lodging client I know of has been fully booked up since June of 2020. If the second half of the season holds to the levels we’re witnessed during the first half – I think records will be broken at four or five of the most popular ski resorts in the region. I think we’ll see some records elsewhere and there is no question in my mind that Timberline Mountain, which rose from the ashes that once were Timberline Resort, will have the best season witnessed at that location in more than a decade. I’ll ditto that statement for Ober Gatlinburg which has struggled for cooperating weather over the last ten years. NOT SO THIS SEASON. Ober will have their best season in many years.
While I won’t name the least visited resorts in the region annually – they do exist as such. Even those ski areas will see their best season in numerous seasons.
MID-WEEK CROWDS HAVE INCREASED THIS SEASON, BUT MONDAY THROUGH THURSDAYS REMAIN THE BEST TIME TO VISIT
As we have reported all season long, weekends are being SOLD OUT at the most popular, most visited ski resorts annually. On a recent Snowshoe video share, they shared that they are already SOLD OUT (with limited capacity) every weekend from now until MARCH! Translation: Weekends are SOLD out for the rest of January and every weekend in February!
You’ll find that same thing will be the case at MANY ski areas in the region. That situation has inspired some rather negative posts via social media about “this season being the pits if you’re not a season pass holder”. There IS that argument, but I will share – If you’re wanting to ski or ride on a weekend for the rest of the season, you are welcome to email me personally at [email protected] and I will share where you SHOULD be able to purchase a lift ticket for weekends and ski or ride.
However, as every ski resort op will tell you:
“If you can, plan a trip to area ski resorts mid-week. The region will be less crowded and you will have more options and availability. You will also save money!”
…and lift lines will be almost none existent.
With so many of you (readers) being able to work remotely right now, why not do it from the side of a ski resort!?!?
A Few Notables and Shares
So cool to see NINE of our SIXTEEN resorts either 100% open or VERY close to it.
Great Snowshoe Vid
LOVED THIS TAILGATE SHOT AT WINTERPLACE (except for those ugly orange spots!)
Tubing at Omni Homestead Resort
Has it Been Snowy in Tucker County Lately or What?!?!
As I shared…today I am Rambling…
I have received as many as 14 shots of Bernie Sanders’ memes of him sitting at various mountain locations. I don’t get the affinity or “attraction” – even the reason for the nonsense. Therefore no shares here.
Here’s a Great Share from Appalachian Ski Mountain –
She said YES! Congratulations to Keith and Jen on their engagement. We are glad you chose us for the special moment. 🧡🧡🧡 •
Nice Wintergreen Vid
Best Conditions of the Season
So I have a short story to share. It is one related to patience. Yesterday I called a ski resort to make some reservations for a weekend later this season. Yes, I get free lifties and lodging at a lot of resorts in the region, but many of those resort ops would tell you that I have also tried to support them by booking and paying for my own way from time to time. I won’t name for the resort for obvious reasons.
On Saturday I called a resort reservation number as was on HOLD for 45 minutes. When the person finally answered, they were obviously not enjoying their job when they offered, “How can I help you?”
My first response was not mean; nor did I raise my voice, but I DID say, “Wow, 45 minutes hold time. You guys must be busy.”
Crickets chirped as there was ZERO response.
I said, “Are you still there?”
She responded, “Can I help you?”
I was NOT angry, but surprised that she didn’t reply to my statement so I said (in a very nice, calm voice), “Are you not going to acknowledge that I was said I was on hold for 45 minutes?”
She hung up on me. (No I’m not kidding!)
I laughed, even as I was a little ticked. But I called back and was on HOLD for 35 minutes before someone answered. I didn’t share my being on hold or being hung up on until AFTER I asked about lodging this time around. (By the way, this resort does have online lodging, but it was very glitchy on this particular day.)
In making the reservations and giving my name, they recognized me and afterwards I shared my hold times and being hung up on and they responded:
“Yea. Really sorry about that and there’s no excuse for it except to tell you that we’re all dealing with more rude guests this season than ever. People don’t have a lot of patience right now. Once we explain that we are dealing with covid, and the lack of staff because people are not applying for the job openings we have, they seem to cool down…but it has been a challenge this season.
This season HAS provided reasons that can try your patience. We’ve seen MANY, MANY, MANY complaints about the crowds, the lift lines, the parking lots, the lack of rentals available, the fact that resort’s phone operators are either not answering or hanging up on people (like me!) but the truth is we all just need to take a deep breath try to be a little more understanding and patience.
More Photos to Share
I just liked this poster than I ran across this morning. Sums up my own personal sentiments!
That’s it for me. I’ll end today’s post by saying: Mask-Up! Think Cold! Think Snow!
Book well in advance!
Ski or Ride Mid-Week if you can!
Email me if you like at: [email protected]